Category Archives: diy

And just like that…it’s Fall!

Chopping peppers for the freezer. That's a bowl of foraged wild grapes there too.

Chopping peppers for the freezer. That’s a bowl of foraged wild grapes there too.

I guess in New York after Labor Day has passed, Mother Nature decides it’s time for fall, no matter what the calendar says. I vividly recall showing up to college over 10 years ago in late August from Phoenix and being mortified that our dorm didn’t have AC. I didn’t realize people could actually live without it. My roommate, being from the area, informed me that in a week or two it would cool down, and sure enough, it did.

Today I dressed in layers. I even put on a knitted hat when we went out to run some errands. I love it, since fall is my absolute favorite. I like it even more now that I live somewhere where leaves change color, you can have beautiful potted mums outside, and pumpkins and squash abound at the farmer’s markets.

For me fall also means rest. Summer is so short here that we are really gung-ho about living to the fullest for three months. Then add in the fact that I had my first table at a farmer’s market for my own farm this year, and that Chris was gone for 7 weeks (leaving me to take care of all the house stuff), and I was a very busy lady.

Now that things are slowing down it’s hard to find the motivation to get back outside to put everything away for the winter. I know it’ll get done, I just wish I could get back some of that, “Yay, it’s spring, let’s get this garden started!” umph back.

Now I want to sip tea, knit, and read on my couch surrounded by my two dogs. I want to roast veggies and make soups. I want to linger a bit longer under the covers in the morning too.

Making grape juice from the wild grapes. We turned it into jelly.

Making grape juice from the wild grapes. We turned it into jelly.

Overall I feel decently prepared for winter. I’ve made a lot of jams and jellies, stocked my chest freezer with veggies and fruits, and I’m already thinking out Christmas gifts. October will bring the last of the outdoor work, and the last push at procuring emergency supplies. They say we’ll have a very cold winter.

My DIY plans for the fall/winter are: making soap, some freshening up of paint inside the house, sewing new curtains for the kitchen, lots of knitting, and making citrus curd when the midwinter citrus is in season and ready to ship.

What are your plans? Are you sad to see summer go?


In a Jam & I Painted a Chicken

Spooning in the jam.

Today I get to mention my friend Jillian twice. For starters, she also recently made the toaster pastries I’ll be talking about, and her combos not only look delicious but they are allergy safe.

At the April Food Swap I got to meet Alana Chernila and snagged myself a copy of her book The Homemade Pantry. Pretty much anyone who ever cooks food for themselves should own this book. The very next day I made the toaster pastries that are pictured on the cover, and knew it wouldn’t be long before I made them again.

Several half-used jars of homemade jam were piling up in my fridge. I wanted a way to use them all up before they went bad, plus I was overdue for some bulk snack making. I promptly made up a double batch of Alana’s crust and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

Ready to bake!

When I woke up I got to rolling. I really love her crust. It’s so easy to use because it’s never crumbly and it isn’t prone to ripping apart from itself. If you fear homemade crust, get the book and use this recipe.

In the end I made 18 toaster pastries. The flavors are blueberry cherry balsamic, raspberry balsamic, and strawberry/raspberry/rhubarb. I left 6 out and packaged the rest to be put into the freezer.

The finished product.

Later in the day Jack decided he wanted to paint. I’ve wanted to paint for some time as well so we headed out to get a few supplies. When we got home we set everything up and then just painted whatever felt right at the time. His is a chaotic scene of animals and fictitious creatures, and mine is a chicken.

creative genius

We are now officially participating in Jillian’s Artful Summer! I will continue to post about our journey with art during this season.

DIY Mason Jar Lids for Straws

The lid of my super fantastic mason jar drinking glass.

Summer cocktail season is officially on now and these are perfect vessels for them. They are pretty awesome for iced coffee, smoothies, and lemonade too.

I had seen these lids on etsy and Chris couldn’t fathom that I would pay for these so he decided to make them for me for Mother’s Day. No matter how cheap and easy these were, they made for a seriously awesome gift.

Chris said you basically have to get your straws first, and reverse engineer back from that. I got a package of BPA-free straws (and the ever-important scrub brush to clean inside them) from this woman on ebay and she shipped them super fast.

One of the nice things about these straws is that they have this part at the bottom that sticks out just enough so that your straw can’t completely fall out of the hole on top.

So you’ll get your straws and then you need to go to a hardware store and look for rubber grommets. Make sure you ask specifically for grommets (not washers) and they will probably be loose in bins. Bring in your straw and test out sizes until you see which one fits the best.

Then you need to see which drill bit fits the external diameter of the grommet size you chose. Chris said that on the inside of the bin where you get the grommets from it’s listed right there. Easy enough so far, right?

Take your canning jar lid put two clamps on it, across from each other. Now anchor these to something secure. You don’t want it slipping or moving while you try to drill the hole through it.

Drill the holes and very carefully wipe away any dust from drilling. The inside of the hole will be sharp! Pop the grommets in, slide in your straws, screw on the lids and you are ready for beverage time!

Use different volume mason jars to have an assortment for kids and grownups.

Although they are not 100% leak proof, they do a pretty decent job. These would be really great as gifts or incredibly fun party favors. You could even take Sharpie markers and write each guest’s name on the front.

So now go and make these and share your pics on my Facebook please!

And around we go!

It seems a lot of the time things work in cycles. Or it seems that way to me at least. Recently we realized (much to our chagrin) that a bonus payment for Chris’ job we thought was coming….didn’t. The whole thing reminded me a lot of Jenna’s “dangerous money” post where a slightly similar thing happened.

So I did like I usually do when I’m blindsided and that is have a private hissy fit and then put my big girl panties on and deal. (It’s a good thing I get to stage 2 because otherwise I don’t think I’d have too many friends.)

A few years ago, when I got back to my DIY roots, a lot of it was inspired by being on the edge of broke just after our move to NY. Since then things have gotten a bit more comfortable and although I will always love a good deal, I’ve been lax with being frugal.

This whole debacle lit a fire under me to do things I’d simply been putting off. I got out a binder and plastic slip covers and organized all of my recipes. I should’ve done this ages ago and it helped me remember all sorts of great recipes I wanted to try.

This leads me to the next part of my plan which is planning our meals using mostly what we already have. I have lots and lots of food in this house. I get a CSA share each week and many of our staples are purchased from local farms or can be made at home.

Which is where we arrive at the third leg of this plan. Way back in the winter of ’08-’09 I started to make my own bread. Then it was onward to yogurt, tortillas, and lots of other staples. As with coupon clipping, setting a food budget, creating a meal plan, and bargain shopping, I’d begun to get lazy with this too.

It’s very easy when I’m at the farmers’ market twice a week to procure items from the other vendors. I feel like my money is going somewhere good, and a lot of times I get a discount or get free stuff altogether. I’m ok with all of this, but it meant I was using my moola instead of elbow grease, and I should know better.

I just spent a few minutes organizing my little coupon holder. I have already figured out my meals for the week. I am fully prepared to be a smarter consumer and to find other ways to payoff the fence (that’s where the bonus was going to go). I just hope that 2 years from now I’m not telling the same tale all over again.

Let’s hope I’m smarter than that.

Preserving the Season

In my last post you saw my new shelves and on the 3rd row are all of my preserves.

I wanted to provide links with my alterations in case anyone wants to try these. Some (depending on where you live) may need to wait for next year due to the fruit in them.

The first two were from my Ball Canning book. This book is AWESOME! I know there are a lot of nifty, trendy canning books out now, but you can’t hate on a classic. It’s a classic for a reason. Sure, I don’t want to try everything in it, but it has a lot of great recipes and tips.

I used some Roma tomatoes and made Bruschetta in a Jar. I followed this one to the letter. I used one jar already as a pizza topping and it was good, but be warned…it’s very acidic. There’s wine and white wine vinegar in the recipe and it is necessary for the canning process but also gives it a more complex flavor. If you don’t want to deviate from a standard bruschetta topping, I would suggest just making it fresh each time while tomatoes are in season. Now I just need to make more mozz to enjoy another jar.

Second, was their recipe for Jalapeno Jelly. I love, love, love spicy jellies. For this I only used about 2.5 cups of sugar instead of 6 and omitted the green food coloring. I’m pretty sure that because I used less than half of the sugar that I got fewer jars out of this than the recipe stated. I’m ok with that though, I’d rather have less sugar.

Next up I made a Blueberry Jam with Cherry Balsamic Vinegar and some black pepper. I was inspired by this recipe from Coconut & Lime. I got some Cherry Balsamic from Saratoga Olive Oil Co. and thought that would be great in place of the regular balsamic. Again, I about halved the sugar, but kept the pectin the same. It actually got a little too gelled for my liking, so next time I’d use less pectic, but that’s just a personal preference. This is a jelly that goes awesome with brie and crackers.

After we went peach picking I wanted to make a peach jam but something a little different than just regular jam. I found this recipe which uses habaneros and basil. I have serranos in my garden so I used those and was going to use Thai basil from my garden but it was late when I was making this and I honestly didn’t feel like foraging with a flashlight. I added a couple leftover jalapenos to the mix as well, and also reduced the sugar. It’s a mostly sweet jam with a nice hint of spice.

Lastly, I made tomato paste. I used Pick Your Own’s recipe and honestly it only made a pint’s worth. For all that work, I don’t think I’ll bother again in the future since organic tomato paste is easy to get. I’m glad I did it, because it was interesting to learn and if it made more I’d definitely do it again, but I was really bummed with how little tomato was left when all the juice is squeezed out.

So there you have it! I’m not sure what other things I’ll do before the season is over. Probably just salsa mostly and maybe some hot sauce with my serranos. If I get a chance to get some raspberries I may do something with them as well.

Humanity…we have a problem.

Recently I’ve been mulling something over.

I am incredibly lucky to have this amazing network of women in my life who love to cook, bake, and preserve and who are great at it.

I have a local community of talented and passionate farmers who provide me with things that people pay twice as much for at Whole Foods. Plus I get the benefit of their friendship and even their knowledge for when we get the chance to have a farm of our own.

I have a great local library packed with books on beekeeping and cheese making. There are NOFA conferences and food swaps and classes. Not to mention almost anything I could imagine to want to learn is just a Google search away.

But what eats at me, when I’m at a super fun cheese making party stirring a pot of curds, or trying to figure out how to make hamburger buns, is that my great grandmother would laugh at me if she were still alive.

She used to wake up each morning bright and early to bake bread fresh for the day. Every Christmas she’d knit slippers for my brother and I. She taught my mom a lot about cooking and baking, and my mom still makes her lemon meringue pie that’s so good it’ll make you want to cry.

When I talk to my grandpa, who used to have a farm of his own, about the raw milk we get he says, “Oh that stuff your mom buys at the store just tastes like water, it’s awful.” His son (my stepdad) used to have to milk all their cows before school, even with 5 feet of snow on the ground.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that people are learning about raw milk, organic gardening, canning and everything else. I think it’s fantastic. But I’m taken aback when I hear stories like Chris’ coworker asking him if you have to do something special to an egg before you can crack it and eat it. He honestly had no idea you could use it right from the chicken.

Or the patrons at the market who seriously don’t understand why we don’t carry items like lemons or avocados. I’m honestly just baffled when it happens, and sadly it happens more than you’d expect.

If we can lose all of this basic knowledge in 3 or 4 generations I sure hope it doesn’t take longer than that for us to get it back. There’s just too much riding on it.

Fun Times at the County Fair

I love the fair. Yep, love it. The horrible, unhealthy food, the crazy people, the exhibits…all of it. That’s why I tend to go 3 times each year.

To the right on the table behind him is his collection.

This year since Jack has been in 4H we got to get in for free. It was exciting to see all of his 4H projects on display but even better was seeing that he won a 3rd place ribbon for his Lego/Bionicle collection. It took a lot of explaining for him to realize that 3rd place means something good and does not, in fact, mean yours was the worst display. Ugh, kids.

Each time we went back he wanted to go see his collection again and again, and I didn’t mind at all. I was very proud of him because he works very hard on his Lego projects and really loves building with them.

That's how a cowgirl ropes a calf. Incredible.

We also saw the rodeo, which is something else I love. I believe I may have been 4 or 5 when I went to the rodeo for the first time. We used to go a lot when we lived in New Mexico. I used to get scared that the calves were getting hurt during calf roping. I always loved the barrel racing. I still do, it’s my favorite.

Coming up to barrel #3.

Rounding barrel #3. Look how far they are leaning to that one side! Her foot almost touches the ground.

If you’ve never been to a rodeo (for shame!) I shall explain. The coolest women ever ride their horses into the arena as fast as they possibly can. They try to get their horse around 3 different barrels as fast as they can. If they knock a barrel down, 5 seconds gets added to their time. Once they round the final barrel they race back out of the arena while everyone cheers.

Almost done!

We got to see adorable animals and quilts that are so glorious it makes you feel like yours are just a notch above dishrags. Seriously, these quilts were stellar. If I can ever make a quilt half as good, it will be a miracle.

~headers & heelers~ father and son

Now I have to wait a year until it comes back. That’s fine because I need to plan all the various things I’m going to enter. So far I’m thinking a baked good, a preserve, something sewn/knitted/crocheted, and a photo or two. I’ll be dreaming of those blue ribbons for the next year.